Project Pigeon (later Project Orcon, for "organic control") was an
attempt by American behaviorist B.F. Skinner to develop a
pigeon-controlled guided bomb. The video demonstrates how, using
operant conditioning, the pigeons were trained to peck and the target
projected on a small screen in the nose cone.
The program was canceled on 8 October 1944 because "further prosecution
of this project would seriously delay others which in the minds of the
Division have more immediate promise of combat application."
Footage showing a pigeon pecking at screen containing the image of a
battleship. The film was made as part of B.F. Skinner's ORCON (Organic
Control) project, which was designed to teach pigeons to perform tasks.
The onset of World War II brought additional avenues for research to
Skinner's laboratory. At the outset of the war, the U.S. Airforce was
dependent on traditional weaponry such as bombers dropping dozens of
high explosive shells on a target, there were no missile guidance
systems at the time. Skinner sought funding for a top secret research
project to train pigeons to guide bombs towards their targets. The
control system involved a lens at the front of the missile projecting an
image of the target on to a screen inside, where a pigeon trained by
operant conditioning pecked at the target. As long as the pecks remained
in the center of the screen, the missile would fly straight. The
actions of the pigeon guided the bomb. In his experiments Skinner
demonstrated that his pigeons were able to reliably peck at the target,
even while falling rapidly and surrounded by the intense noise of
simulated warfare. Project Pigeon was eventually discontinued because of
another top secret military project unknown to Skinner (radar), but the
work proved useful to Skinner's research. He had proved that pigeons
responded more rapidly than rats, which led to later behavioral
discoveries as well as additional research.